The first trailer for Jackie, the upcoming biopic about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis starring Natalie Portman, was released yesterday. As expected, the internet went pretty wild over how much Portman looks like the iconic first lady and wife of the late John F. Kennedy. Her hair, her demeanor, her solemn gaze — it's pretty much perfection. But in addition to all this beauty and grace, Portman uses a voice I had never heard before — and it made me cringe. It doesn't take a linguist to notice that the actress sounds pretty bizarre in the trailer. Her tone is flat, and her voice comes out with a slight rasp. It was distracting and confusing to me at first, and I needed to understand why she chose to talk this way for the role. Turns out, her voice in the trailer is spot-on Jackie. You have to hear it to believe it. First, watch to this video of Jackie giving a tour of the White House.
Now, watch the trailer again.
Her accent, while perhaps off-putting at first, is incredibly accurate. But what are the roots of the real Jackie Kennedy's dialect, otherwise known as a Mid-Atlantic accent? The first lady came from a long lineage of Northeastern elite, including the infamous mother-daughter duo depicted in Grey Gardens, who were Jackie's cousins. Her family adopted the accent favored by the British upper classes. In a word, they sounded snobby. As far as Portman's performance goes, tackling an accent that many viewers may not be familiar with is difficult. Especially when, even though it's accurate, it sounds so strange. If you'll remember, after the release of Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis' voice in the film was met with similar reactions. Lewis portrayed President Abraham Lincoln with his documented voice, which was extremely high-pitched and seemed surprising for such a tall, commanding, and iconic leader.
Lincoln looked like a baritone but talked like a schoolboy, just as Jackie looked like a movie star but talked like an Upper East Sider chain-smoking cigarettes.